03 December 2007 00:00 [Source: ICB]
No one can operate in isolation from government intervention, and the petrochemical industry is no exception. The leaders of the world's most powerful and controversial nations exert enormous influence across the globe.
ICIS editors have hand-picked those who, for better or worse, have impacted our business in meaningful ways in 2007. It is highly likely that many will continue to do so next year. Leading our pack of most powerful political players, we have
Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, who, as part of a plan to nationalize the country's upstream energy assets, has seized oil fields from ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips during the past year.
Now nationalization of the downstream industry looms, with Chavez talking of a "petrochemical revolution" - inspired, he says, by the Iranian model. This reportedly includes a planned $20bn (€13.6bn) investment in new plant build over the next five years. Foreign partners at Venezuela's existing petrochemical complexes can only await their fate.
Chavez has caused further consternation among Western nations by both strengthening links with Iran - typified by the signing of a joint venture (JV) agreement on methanol projects in both countries - and by his encouragement of Caribbean nations to seek greater independence from the US by pledging to meet their oil needs for years to come.
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's dogged pursuance of a nuclear development program continues to keep Iran at loggerheads with the US and EU. Despite Iran's vast upstream resources, the political fallout and threat of harsher trade sanctions cast a cloud over the country's chemical thrust. Iran's ambitious, and largely export-oriented, petrochemical expansion plans could well be thwarted as political pressure mounts on Western oil companies and engineering contractors to shun the country.
China's president, Hu Jintao,has had a huge influence in
terms of sustaining the phenomenal economic growth the country has seen in recent years. He has created a political climate and infrastructure conducive to Western investors, who continue to flock to the country, attracted by growing local markets and cheap labor costs. But it all comes at a price - China's growing pollution and contribution to global warming are raising concerns worldwide.
Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin wields vast power over Russia's huge oil and gas assets. Recent shareholder changes to increase government control of the upstream industry have led, for example, to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development disengaging from financing talks on the Sakhalin II project, and uncertainty for Western participation in other JVs. Putin's search for ways of lowering Russia's oil export reliance on transit countries, following a debacle over transit fees with Belarus, could also threaten Europe's energy security.
Despite his Republican party's bruising defeat in the November 2006 midterm elections, US president George Bush remains a powerful influence on US and global chemicals. The US military presence in Iraq is the biggest issue, but Bush also shapes the industry with his Middle East policies, lack of action on climate change, and increasingly protectionist view of US industry and homeland security. There are trade and currency issues with China as well.
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